Comedians have stress

November 20th 2011 Comedians have stress blog.

In previous blogs I’ve tried to explain what it’s like for a comedian and warm-up man to make an audience laugh in a club, theatre, television studio or a mixed sauna in Sweden. Oh….you missed the one about my gig in the mixed sauna? Well I won’t bore you with it all over again, but I will remind you how disappointed I felt when, after I thought I’d received a massive round of applause, as the steam cleared I realised the sound I’d heard was actually thirty-five pairs of bare buttocks sitting down on stone slabs at the same time.

So, if you’ve read some of my previous blogs, by now you should have some idea what it’s like to stand on a stage and tell jokes and funny stories hoping the people sitting there watching you will find you at the very least mildly amusing and at best, flippin’ hilarious.

 

This time around I want to give you a flavour of what it’s like behind the scenes, backstage, before that heart-stopping moment when your name is called and it’s your turn to walk up to the microphone. Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I mean, if it really was a heart-stopping moment, you’d never make it to the microphone would you? You’d be lying semi-conscious on the floor with someone working on your chest and giving you the kiss of life. Similar to what you might see on some Swansea streets on most Friday nights.

 

 

I compered a comedy night recently which featured an array of comedians. No, that doesn’t sound right, does it? An ‘array‘ of comedians. No, there has to be a better word to describe a collection of funny men. A ‘ giggle ‘ of comedians maybe? Knowing some comedians penchant for ‘ borrowing‘ other comedians material, I think it was Barry Cryer who coined the phrase a ‘ steal ‘ of comedians. And bearing in mind how stressed-out and worried many ( though not all ) comedians are before they go on stage, maybe the most apt word would be a ‘misery ‘ of comedians.

 

 

Anyway, this particular night there were eight comedians on the bill plus me compering and generally keeping order. There was a real mixture of ages and experience amongst the eight comics, from the ones with loads of gigs under their belts to those who were comedy virgins.

 

 

But it was noticeable that even some of the experienced ones were visibly nervous, unsure if the act that might have stormed an audience the previous night will get the same reaction this night. Because that happens a lot. Solid gold material can raise the roof one night, yet, delivered in exactly the same way to a different audience in another venue the following night, it can be met by silence….or even worse…heckles and jeers.

Heckles and Jeers? Weren’t they a comedy double-act back in the 70’s.

 

 

It’s odd that audiences can feel so free to heckle a comedian or even shout out ” Heard it!” while he’s in the middle of a joke, but they never do that when a singers on stage belting out a chart-topping pop song or a power ballad. Imagine going to see Shirley Bassey at the Royal Albert Hall. The 60-piece orchestra starts the strident, brassy intro to “ Goldfinger “. Shirley opens her mouth to allow that glorious voice of hers to belt out “ Gold….fingah! He’s the man, the man with the Midas touch….” and some annoying twonk in the second row who thinks he’s funny , suddenly yells out “ Heard it!“.

 

 

That never happens and quite rightly so. But a performer who may be just as talented in the comedy world as Shirley is in the music world, is wide open to being rudely interrupted by an obnoxious audience member and is expected to be able to handle it. I just thought that was a point worth making. Where the heck was I….?

 

 

Oh yeah. Back to that comedy night. It was interesting for me to quietly observe how each of the comics dealt with the ‘ordeal’ they were about to endure.

 

And make no mistake about it, if you go out there and your first few jokes or amusing observations fall flat and get little or no reaction from the audience, so you start losing confidence and sweat appears on your top lip and the inside of your mouth suddenly resembles the Gobi Desert at noon and you’re wondering if the rest of your material will meet a similar fate and your mind starts wandering and you ask yourself why you didn’t take your brothers advice and take up a much-less hazardous occupation, like grizzly bear wrestling or sky-diving without a parachute….it definitely becomes an ordeal.

 

 

Different comedians cope with pre-show nerves in different ways. Some like to quietly sip a pint. Or two. Or three. That’s not something I would recommend. I never drink alcohol before a show. I respect my audience too much to go out there with a drink or drinks inside me. They might have had several , which is all well and good. But a comedian has to remain sharp and focused and you can’t do that when alcohol is flowing though you system. Or when you’re wresting grizzly bears.

 

 

On this particular night, minutes before the show started, some comedians paced up and down, going over and over the act in their head. Some stood outside smoking and chatting as if they were just waiting for a ‘bus. Others sat there, hands in their heads, apparently asleep but actually trying to remember a new line they wrote that day and how they could shoe-horn it into their well-rehearsed routine. Mind you, I did discover that one of them really was fast asleep because of Jet lag. He’d left his car at the petrol station and walked eight miles to the gig.

 

 

They all dealt with their nerves in their own way and what worked for them, definitely must work for them, because on this particular evening, none of the comedians let me down. They each had their own style and attitude and came well prepared with plenty of fresh, laugh-out-loud routines. I know they all took the time to prepare for the night. And that I think is the main way a comedian can conquer his or her nerves. By knowing their act inside and outside, frontwards and backwards, so that if they do mess up a line – and it can happen to the very best and most experienced – they know exactly what the next line is, deliver it perfectly and get the laughter that their hard work and creativity deserves.

 

 

My thanks go out to the following performers: Gary Slaymaker, Gill Ray, Matt Steel, Huw Marshall, Andy Woolley, Ignacio Lopez, Geraint Evans, Alan Wightman and Luke England.

 

 

That’s it for now. If I don’t speak to you all before December 25th, let me be the first to wish you a Happy Easter and a joyous May Day Bank Holiday,

Spilling The Beans on Comedy

PHIL EVANS BLOG

 

Spilling the beans

 

Well it’s the time of year when the clocks go back. Our clock went back to British Home Stores, because it stopped working. We stood at the Returns desk for ten solid minutes while my partner gave the woman assistant a real ear-bashing about how disappointed she was with the poor quality of the clock and how much it had cost her and how she was never going to buy anything at BHS ever again. When she eventually finished, the woman said “ Have you tried changing the batteries? “ and I said “ My partner doesn’t need batteries. She can keep going for hours on a large cappuccino and a Kit Kat ! ”

 

So that’s Halloween out of the way. I can’t say it’s my favourite night of the year. Well, I get so fed up with those horrible cheeky little children in scary masks and creepy costumes, shouting “ Trick Or Treat !”, basically holding out what amounts to a begging bowl. You may think me harsh but I don’t see why I should give them loads of free sweets and lollipops just because I’m their Dad.

 

Even though they’re only Four and Seven ( I named them after the number of a house I used to live in ), they’re my kids, and after a couple of hours of watching them playing very noisy spooky games I told them straight “ Will you please put away the devils horns and vampire teeth and do something useful! “ Okay, so they burst into tears and ran screaming to their mother, but it was Halloween. They were supposed to be scared!

 

And don’t get me started on Bonfire Night! Otherwise known as Guy Fawkes night. Fawkes was the man who got arrested just minutes before he blew up the Houses of Parliament. Other countries celebrate the lives of heroes, achievers and pioneers. How typical of us British that every November the 5th we celebrate a total bloody failure.

 

Those of you who are regular followers of my blog – and those of you who aren’t regular should cut down on the burgers and fries and eat more fruit and fibre – will remember I mentioned some of my experiences as a television warm-up man in a previous blog or two. I enjoy warming-up studio audiences, even though I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve almost come to the killer punch line of a joke or got that close to revealing the last line of a rambling funny story or routine, only to be interrupted ( i.e. told to shut up and get off the set ) by the floor manager because the star of the show is about to appear. “ C’est la vie ! “ as the ancient Egyptians used to say. Well, the two or three who could speak French, anyway.

 

It’s a fact that if you’re a working comedian who becomes a particularly successful warm-up man, you can get offered wall-to-wall work…but only as a warm-up man. Producers and talent bookers get to know you in that capacity and not as what you started out as and what you want to make your living as. A stand-up comic. Whilst it can be very frustrating, in this business and in these tough economic times we have to count our blessings if we’re offered any sort of work or even asked to attend an interview to discuss the possibility of work. Which is why, when I was invited to the BBC studios in White City some months ago to meet a producer who might be in a position to offer me a job as a warm-up man on a new television series, I bought an Inter City train ticket to London. As I caught a train before nine in the morning, I daren’t tell you how much the ticket cost, but I doubt if I could have afforded it if an elderly uncle hadn’t died and left me £15,000 in his will. That’s right. There was just enough left over to buy a cup of coffee and a sandwich.

 

When I reported at BBC reception, the young lady behind the desk said she would ‘phone the producer and tell him I had arrived. So I found a comfy chair and waited. And waited. And then I waited a bit more. Now there’s an old showbiz expression, coined no doubt by an old showbiz expressionist, that if you sit in BBC reception long enough, the odds are you’ll see a major international star, a newsreader, someone off “East Enders “ and at least one Chuckle Brother.

 

That’s just so much hogwash. And let me tell you I’ve washed my fair share of hogs in my time and they take a heckuva lot of washing.

 

I was sat there for almost an hour and the most famous person I saw was that bald bloke who used to be in that comedy, or was it a drama, set in Newcastle or it might have been Leeds? The one set in a supermarket. Or possibly a vicarage. You must know him. He was married to that woman who was in “Emmerdale “ or “ Holby City ” before getting that show on E4 at half past one in the morning. So you can imagine my excitement.

 

Ah, but then! But then! Who should I see walking up to the reception desk, but an imposing figure dressed all in black with curly grey hair and beard to match. No, not Esther Rantzen or Angela Rippon, you card, you! You’re really funny! So stop it!

 

It was none other than the Prince of Pontypridd….Tom Jones himself! I couldn’t believe he was on his own. I imagined he might have brought along a large entourage…or some other foreign car. And, after having reported-in at reception, he sat down right opposite me, smiled, and nodded. Then, some sixth sense must of kicked-in, because he leant over and said in that familiar, deep husky voice “ Oooh, sweetie, I simply adore those shoes you’re wearing! Where did you find them, you lucky bitch? “.

 

No, no, he didn’t. Of course he didn’t. It was my jacket he loved. No, I’m kidding. I know Tom’s not remotely camp. Just bear with me and with a bit of luck and a fair wind, we should both arrive at the end of this anecdote at the same time.

 

What he said was “ You’re not from Wales by any chance are you? “. Now I’ll admit I might have given him a little clue here and there. Things like, wearing a copy of the Western Mail on my head…playing the Welsh National Anthem on a kazoo…and building a scale model of the Senedd out of plastic spoons.

 

So we started talking, he asked me what I was doing at the BBC and it turned out he was going to meet the same producer who should have met me an hour before . As we were chatting away, a young girl P.A. came over and asked Tom to accompany her. Tom shook my hand, wished me luck and off he went. To see the producer I was supposed to have met an hour before!

 

That was a real lesson for me. I learned that international superstars who have sold millions of records and performed all over the world from Las Vegas to the London Palladium over a forty-five year career, are thought to be more important than a warm-up man from West Wales. Who would have thought it?

 

It was another hour before the producer I had travelled to London to meet, could find the time to see me. And when he walked up to me, he didn’t even apologise for keeping me waiting. As far as he was concerned, I might have been waiting to see him for five minutes or five hours. He couldn’t have cared less.

 

Oh, you want to know this pillocks name? 0kay, for the sake of this blog, I’ll call him Nigel. I’ll call him Nigel because that’s his name.

 

I couldn’t show Nigel how angry I felt for being left waiting for two hours. If I had, there would be no chance of me being offered the job, which, from what I understood would entail me working every Saturday night for twelve weeks, for pretty good money. But he’d behaved very rudely and made me feel about that big. It didn’t help matters, as he walked me to his office, that he didn’t stop boasting about all the huge stars he had worked with and how he was the BBC’s golden boy of entertainment, yadda, yadda, yadda.

 

Make no mistake about it, he wanted me to know that despite the fact the show he was producing was, in his words “ Going to be the next big Saturday night ratings winner “ if I was chosen to be the warm-up man, I was going to be so low on the shows totem pole, any small dog who needed to cock his leg against it, would be pee-ing way over my head.

 

As we walked to his office, him jabbering on about his successes, me trying to look interested while I was silently seething inside, he suddenly stopped in his tracks and said, “ Look, Paul….” , which was another nail in the coffin of our budding friendship… “ Here at the BBC London, it’s not like BBC Cardiff. These corridors here are simply awash with stars and superstars. And as I doubt you have actually worked with or met many superstars, I must insist that if you see one today, and there’s every likelihood you’ll see many while you’re here, you must not approach them , speak to them, smile at them or even look at them. Is that understood? “

 

I nodded, which seemed to keep him happy and then we carried on walking for a bit, him talking, me wishing a rogue Dalek would come hurtling down the corridor to exterminate him, when he stopped again. “ Bill…” he said, “ Let me be frank !”.

 

So Nigel had suddenly become Frank. How confusing. Pause for laughs. None came. Cary on. He said “We have several potential warm-up men to see over the next week or so, some of them with vastly more experience than you. So don’t build your hopes up! “ No fear of that. Any hopes I’d had when I got on the train were now laying battered and bruised on the side of the track, somewhere between Bristol Parkway and Swindon .

 

He continued “ But as you’ve come all this way, let me show you our Green Room. You do know what a green room is, I hope? “ . I was now ready to punch this arrogant, condescending twonk right in his condescendingly twonky nose. He opened a door and I followed him into the Green room , which contained a half dozen sofas, a table covered in plates of cold meats, salads and fruit and….sat in the corner, drinking a cup of tea and watching “ In The Night Garden “ on a 50” plasma screen, the Prince Of Pontypridd. Jones The Voice!

 

When Nigel saw Tom he almost had a blue fit, saying “ Sorry to interrupt Tom! We’ll come back later” as he tried to push me out of the room before I could make eye contact with the superstar. Tom looked up at Nigel and said nothing. Then he looked at me, smiled and said “ Alright ‘Phil! Has he offered you the job yet? “ . I said “No, Tom, he hasn’t interviewed me, yet ! “ . And I paused for two seconds before I said, purely to get up Nigels condescendingly twonky nose. “Maybe you could put in a good word for me? “.

 

Tom flashed that famous grin of his and went back to watching the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk, as Nigel grabbed my arm and stuttered “ D….d….d…you know Tom Jones? “, his red face now a picture of puzzled embarrassment.

 

I could have said so many things at that moment, but I just ignored him, said goodbye to Tom, who waved and wished me luck again and I walked back down the corridor, out of the BBC and hailed a taxi to take me to Paddington Station.

 

I’m still waiting to hear from Nigel.

 

As they say on “ In The Night Garden “….Isn’t it a pip!!

 

Until the next time, my friends, remember, you know you’re having a bad day when you accidentally tune in to “ Loose Women “ for a few minutes and find yourself thinking “ These girls talk a lot of sense! I must watch this more often!”.